Does it spark joy? My veterinary take on Marie Kondo

May 31, 2019
Mike Paul, DVM
Mike Paul, DVM

Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.

dvm360, dvm360 August 2019, Volume 50, Issue 8

Japans so-called Queen of Tidy helped me sort my T-shirt drawer, my office and my garage, keeping only the stuff that sparked joy. But I think these lessons offer us veterinary professionals a chance to ask that about every task and everyone in our lives.

Keep or toss-which box will we get sorted into? I don't sleep very well some nights and find myself either scanning the web or channel surfing on TV looking for something to pass the time. A few weeks ago, as I was clicking through channels, I stumbled onto a show I'd never seen before and thought it looked curious: a charming Asian woman showing me how to fold my T-shirts. Fascinating, huh? (Editor's note: All right, so some of us are a little obsessed with her already.)

We have too much stuff

The show was sort of a Hoarders lite but with less pathology. The episode was about a family whose place was cluttered but not buried in an avalanche. I'd just commented earlier in the day to my wife that my office and garage were a mess, so the show seemed relevant at 2 a.m.

Pumped about putting things in their place? We've got other articles right now for you:

Some of you have likely heard of this show already (Tidying Up With Marie Kondo on Netflix), named for the Japanese hostess, author and consultant, sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Tidy.” Now, I don't know how long it stayed that way, but the formerly cluttered house had a place for everything and everything in its place by the time she left.

Now, back to my office and garage, where I have a place for everything-but that's where it ends. Too many books, too many tools, too many files, too much semi-organized junk. So I decided to try Marie Kondo's system in my bedroom first. I unwadded and folded/rolled my T-shirts and shorts and wound up with space to spare. So far so good, but the garage presented me with my first problem: how to get rid of junk without throwing away something you “might need … someday?” It seemed overwhelming.

Does it spark joy?

That's where Kondo's system kicked in. You start by putting all your stuff in piles and handling each item (I don't think she knows how many items I have!) and ask yourself if it sparks joy. Well, that might work with baby pictures and the like, but what about boxes of screws, textbooks so old the binding has dissolved and proceedings books that are outdated? I'd kept them all because … well, I might need them some day. None of this stuff “sparked joy.” It was just there. So I didn't ask how much joy an item brought me, but when was the last time I used it or even looked at it?

I sorted with a vengeance. More than 150 books to the local pet rescue shop (I don't think I've ever reread a book and with Google at hand I don't need references or even my old cookbooks). Collectables and souvenirs on shelves went to the dump. Nothing was sacred. I eliminated hundreds of screws and bolts and rusty tools and filtered everything with a new set of questions: “What the hell is this? When did I last look for something like a rusty wrench? Can't I just get a new one if I need it?”

I threw away or gave away a lot. Living by the sea, everything rusts within weeks anyway. I wound up with shelf space and pegboard hanger space to spare. I have yet to look for a 20-year-old book, and more things are in their place.

So, if you need to organize, you can read Kondo's book or watch her Netflix show and try this for yourself. But maybe you want to know how this principle of tidiness fits into our whole lives. Now it gets back to the joy …

Tidying up your life

Think about your average week and how you spend your days. What are you spending time on? What are your priorities in life? What's really worth keeping and what should you change? When I've asked people to prioritize things in their lives, the important things are obvious: They're the things that bring us joy. Family, community and friends, spirituality, health and career are probably on everyone's list of priorities. And yet looking at where we put our time and energy, you might ask why what we do with our time and energy is often in conflict with our stated priorities. Sometimes they bring us angst instead of joy.

Treat every aspect of your life each day like something you can keep or eliminate. Simply stated, if something makes you happy, do more of it. If something causes stress and unhappiness, do less of it. Look critically at the things that pull on you. Learn to say “no.” Do you really have to be on every committee and work detail? Do you really have to stay at work late every evening? Do you need to solve everyone else's problems? Are there people in your life you really don't enjoy? Do you always need to sacrifice at the expense of your family, friends and health? Do these things bring you joy?

Start now, not later, and eliminate the negative things in your life and invest the energy into joyful things. Acknowledge when something has a negative impact on your life. Learn to weed. Learn to eliminate. Learn to say no … unless, of course, whatever it is brings you joy.

Dr. Mike Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.

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